America Votes says it was behind political strategy memo

jfrank@newsobserver.comFebruary 27, 2013 

  • Who is America Votes?

    The nonprofit political organization America Votes engages in issues advocacy and campaigns on behalf of Democratic candidates and like-minded causes.

    In the 2012 elections, the group and its related political organizations, including a super PAC, spent about $131,000 to support Democrats and oppose Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The tax-exempt 501(c)4 group does not disclose its donors, but George Soros, a Democratic financier, announced last year that he would contribute $1 million.

    North Carolina is one of 13 states with affiliates. The local division lists two staffers, including state director Jessica Laurenz. She manages a coalition of 16 organizations, including the N.C. AFL-CIO, N.C. Association of Educators, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Lillian’s List and Environment North Carolina.

    John Frank, staff writer

— The leader of a political nonprofit group came forward Wednesday as the author of a leaked strategy memo on how to attack Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican leaders.

Jessica Laurenz, the North Carolina director for America Votes, said she wrote and distributed the draft memo – not Blueprint North Carolina, a Raleigh group being blamed for crafting the plan to “eviscerate the (Republican) leadership and weaken their ability to govern.”

In an interview, Laurenz defended the memo, saying “America Votes has not done anything wrong or out of the ordinary” and didn’t regret “strongly urging my colleagues to fight for what we believe in.”

The memo, leaked to reporters last week as a document originating from Blueprint, was first reported by The Charlotte Observer in an article that ran in this newspaper. The story was quickly pounced upon by Republicans. McCrory called the memo shameful. House Speaker Thom Tillis used it as a fundraising appeal. The state Republican Party registered complaints with the Internal Revenue Service and the state elections board, asking both to investigate Blueprint for political activity outside its charitable status.

Who wrote the memo is central to any potential inquiry. America Votes is allowed to participate in political efforts as a 501(c)4 nonprofit under federal tax law. But Blueprint North Carolina is limited to issue-advocacy and barred from political campaign activities as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Both are tax-exempt organizations, but only donations to 501(c)3 groups are tax deductible.

Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a group aligned largely with Republicans, said the memo’s authorship doesn’t change his demand for all groups affiliated with Blueprint to lose state funding. “I don’t think it changes anything,” he said. “They are trying to split hairs.”

Laurenz emphasized that America Votes and Blueprint are separate groups. But she said that they work together at times to help coordinate efforts among like-minded groups, such as environmental, civil rights, women’s and labor union organizations.

“It is grossly unfair to say the memo is reflective of the good work that the other groups do,” she said. “That would be a shame.”

In a statement, Blueprint Executive Director Sean Kosofsky confirmed that the document was written by America Votes. Kosofsky has denied for days any connection to the plan, previously saying the group is “the victim of a deliberate disinformation campaign by political operatives.”

A brainstorming session

The memo originated from a meeting America Votes and Blueprint held in December in which interest groups aligned with Democratic politics brainstormed a strategy to counter the Republican control of the lawmaking process.

Kosofsky said he attended the December meeting, but “only 501(c)3 compliant activities were discussed.”

The strategies outlined in the America Votes memo included efforts to “eviscerate the leadership,” pressure the governor at public events, and hire private investigators to uncover negative information about GOP leaders, including Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.

Laurenz said she distributed the memo at the gathering, but the organizations present did not endorse it.

“It was put out there as a jumping off point for discussion,” she said. “We had a lot of conversations on how to proceed in this new environment, but I wouldn’t say we came out of the meeting with a plan.”

Laurenz said her group had no intention of hiring private investigators.

She noted that such strategy documents are commonplace in politics.

“Both sides do it,” agreed Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political expert. “What we typically see is the results; what we don’t see is the planning process … laid out like this in black and white.”

The document that was leaked to reporters last week also included a poll that Blueprint sent to its affiliated groups outlining talking points to use against the Republican leadership. One paragraph from it appeared verbatim in House Democratic Leader Larry Hall’s rebuttal to the governor’s State of the State address.

Laurenz said her memo falls within the scope of what political groups do. “Many people strongly disagree with Governor McCrory’s vision for the state of North Carolina and will aggressively fight it,” she said. “That is hardly breaking news.”

Frank: 919-829-4698

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service